Know Thyself

I just finished reading Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism and it is definitely going on my personal list of most influential books.  Please, do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy now.  Not only does Kelly touch on the major components of the Christian life, he provides a succinct and well thought out guide to becoming what he calls ‘the-best-version-of-yourself.’

I’ll try to boil down the keys to becoming the man or woman God made you to be and point out the parts of the book which were most helpful to me.

Blessed Pope John Paul II popularized the term ‘gift of self’ in terms of marriage, but I realized recently that this idea is essential to all vocations.  In order to fully enter into your God-given vocation, you must be able to make a free and complete gift-of-self.  In order to be able to give ourselves away, we must first achieve self-possession.  Self-possession entails living out your identity with purpose and courage.  How do we achieve self-possession?  Through knowledge of ourselves.

After thinking through all of us, I’m beginning to wonder if before we even begin to discern vocation in terms of marriage, religious life, priesthood or singlehood, we must first reach a certain level of self-knowledge which allows us to be in possession of ourselves.

If we focus on gaining self-knowledge instead I think that our vocation will naturally unfold because God will reveal which state of life we were naturally made for.  God knows us more intimately than anyone, so in every moment we simply need to ask Him who we are supposed to be and how to become that person.

So the next natural question is: how do we gain self-knowledge?  Kelly has a few suggestions for this.  First and foremost, a disciplined prayer life is the key to everything else.  He suggests beginning with just 10 minutes a day in the “classroom of silence.”  Instead of going into prayer with your own agenda, come before God and humbly ask: how can I become the person you are calling me to be today?

Kelly also emphasizes the importance of honestly assessing our strengths and weaknesses.  He points out that if you can identify your greatest weakness and work on it until it becomes a strength, there is no limit to the fruit your life will bear.

This may seem obvious, but one of the paths to self-knowledge is simply to pay attention to what brings you joy.  We humans try to complicate things, but God really does want us to be happy and he puts certain desires on our hearts to lead us towards his will.  In discerning God’s will, Kelly discusses the importance of paying attention to three things: legitimate needs, dreams and desires.

The book wraps up with a discussion of virtue, which I had honestly not considered as a key component of the journey towards self-knowledge and self-mastery.  We often focus on resisting vice, rather than growing in virtue.  Faith, Hope and Love, the theological virtues, “dispose us to live in relationship with God”(313).  The cardinal virtues, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, order our passions and help us gain the freedom required to make a complete gift-of-self.

What do you think?